Fundamenta justitiæ sunt, ut ne cui noceatur, deinde ut communi utilitati serviatur. (Cicero, De Officiis)
That which is not just, is not Law; and that which is not Law, ought not to be obeyed (Algernon Sydney, Discourses Concerning Government 1698, Ch. 3, Sect. 11.)Common throughout all the territories of the British Isles are the fundamental principles of the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and the trial by jury as prescribed by law.
At the top of the judicature of the Commonwealth is the High Judicial Committee and below it are the High and Low courts of justice of England, Scotland, Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man. The High Judicial Committee is the court of appeal (or last resort) for the Commonwealth, colonies and dominions, overseas territories and the former Crown dependencies.
High Judicial Committee
At the top of the judicature of the Commonwealth is the High Judicial Committee, that functions as a court of first instance for the trials of peers, for impeachment cases, and as a court of last resort within the Commonwealth. In the latter case the High Court's jurisdiction was essentially limited to the hearing of appeals from the lower courts.The High Judicial Committee is also the court of appeal (or court of last resort) for the Commonwealth colonies and dominions, territories and the former Crown dependencies Although the High Court of Justiciary remains the court of last resort for criminal law in Scotland. Because of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, the High Judicial Committee cannot overturn any primary legislation made by Parliament. However, it can overturn secondary legislation.
Its twelve members are called Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, or Law Lords and are named by the Lord Protector on advice of the Lord Chancellors of England, Scotland and Ireland. At first, The Clerk of the High Court of Judicature would bring petitions to the High Court, and the whole High Judicial Committee could decide if they should or should not be referred to the Committee. As the number of petitions increased, the High Judicial Committee gained the power to reject petitions itself.
Law and courts in England and Wales
In England and Wales the legal system is on common law as amended or repealed by Parliament. The Lord Chancellor of England is the highest judicial office in England and Wales.
The law courts have two parallel court systems: courts of "law" which could only award money damages and recognized only the legal owner of property, and courts of "equity" (courts of chancery) that could issue injunctive relief (that is, a court order to a party to do something, give something to someone, or stop doing something) and recognized trusts of property.
The Court of Common Pleas, or Common Bench, are a common law court in the English legal system that covered "common pleas"; actions between subject and subject, which do not concern the commonwealth. Court of Exchequer is a court that dealt with matters of equity, a set of legal principles based on natural law and common law in England and Wales. The Court of Chancery is a court of equity in England and Wales that followed a set of loose rules to avoid the slow pace of change and possible harshness (or "inequity") of the common law. The Chancery had jurisdiction over all matters of equity, including trusts, land law, the administration of the estates of lunatics and the guardianship of infants. Its initial role was somewhat different, however; as an extension of the Lord Chancellor's role as Keeper of the Protector's Conscience, the Court was an administrative body primarily concerned with conscientious law. Thus the Court of Chancery had a far greater remit than the common law courts, whose decisions it had the jurisdiction to overrule for much of its existence, and was far more flexible.
Law and courts in Scotland
In Scotland the legal system is based on Scots law, is a pluralistic system based on civil-law principles, with common law elements dating back to the High Middle Ages. Scots law recognises four sources of law: legislation, legal precedent, specific academic writings, and custom. Legislation affecting Scotland may be passed by the Parliament,
The Lord Chancellor of Scotland is the highest judicial office in Scotland. The Lord Advocate is the chief legal officer of the Commonwealth in Scotland for both civil and criminal matters. He is the chief public prosecutor for Scotland and all prosecutions on indictment are conducted by his deputies and delegates, nominally in the Lord Advocate's name.
The Lord President of the Court of Session is the most senior judge in Scotland, the head of the judiciary, and the presiding judge of the College of Justice and the Court of Session.
In Scotland the chief courts (College of Justice) are the Court of Session, for civil cases, and the High Court of Justiciary, for criminal cases. The lower courts are two: the Sheriff courts, that have no equivalent outside Scotland, as they deal with both criminal and civil caseloads, and the Justice of the Peace Courts.
Law and courts in Ireland
In Ireland the law system is based on statute and common law, as amended or repealed by Parliament.
The Lord Chancellor of Ireland is the highest judicial office in Ireland. The reform of 1666 established: four high courts: Chancery, Irish Common Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas.
Law and courts in the Isle of Man
The legal system on the Isle of Man is Manx customary law, a form of common law. Manx law originally derived from Gaelic Brehon law and Norse Udal law. Since those early beginnings, Manx law has developed under the heavy influence of English Common Law, and the uniqueness of the Brehon and Udal foundation is now most apparent only in property and constitutional areas of law.
The supreme court for the Isle of Man is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Isle's traditional local appellate court is the Staff of Government Division which has only two judges, titled deemsters, whose decisions are joined to the original trial decision.
The lowest courts in the Isle of Man are the Summary Courts, Coroner of Inquests, Licensing Court, Land Court, etc. These courts are presided over by magistrates. There are two stipendiary magistrates, the High Bailiff and the Deputy High Bailiff, along with lay Justices of the Peace.
Law and courts in the Channel Islands
The Law of the Channel Islands (Jersey and Guernsey) has been influenced by several different legal traditions, in particular Norman customary law, English common law and legislation passed by the legislature.
The head of the judiciary in Jersey is the Bailiff, who as well as performing the judicial functions of a chief justice is also the President (presiding officer) of the States of Jersey and has certain civic, ceremonial and executive functions. The Bailiff's functions may be exercised by the Deputy Bailiff of Jersey and Guernsey.
The keepers and agents of the Public Peace
In England and Wales the keepers or agents of the Public Peace are the justice of the peace (JP), a judicial officer, of a lower court, elected or appointed by means of a commission (letters patent) to keep the peace. Depending on the jurisdiction, such justices dispense summary justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions. Justices of the peace are appointed or elected from the citizens of the jurisdiction in which they serve, and are (or were) usually not required to have any formal legal education in order to qualify for the office. Some jurisdictions have varying forms of training for JPs.
The sheriff in England, Wales and Ireland is a legal official with responsibility for a "shire", i.e. county. In practice, the specific combination of legal, political and ceremonial duties of a sheriff varies greatly from country to country. The bailiff are employed to execute writs and processes, make arrests, keep order in the court.
A Parish constable is a law enforcement officer, usually unpaid and part-time, serving a parish. In some parishes, the position is known as "high constable’’.